Burning Face – Causes of Burning Facial Sensation or Pain

Most people are more conscious about their face than any other part of their body. When abnormal sensations arise on the face, it often the cause of great concern. However, these abnormal sensations may not always be serious. Burning of the face can arise for a host of different reasons, from sunburn and injury to infections and allergies. Even makeup and cosmetic procedures may lead to a burning sensation or pain on the face.

Why does the face feel like its burning?

Abnormal sensations on the skin are known as paresthesias. These may be normal sensations that occur abnormally or without specific stimuli that should elicit these sensations. One of these sensations is burning. It is caused by thermoreceptors in the skin that detect temperature. If the skin is exposed to a heat source then it naturally will lead to a burning sensation if the source is intense.

A burning sensation when there is no external source of heat is usually a sign of inflammation. It can also occur with abnormal stimulation of the temperature receptors in the skin or associated nerves, which may also arise with inflammation. The burning may occur on its own or be associated with other sensations, such as pain or itching.

A burning sensation is not unique to the face. It can occur anywhere on and even in the body. Sometimes the cause of inflammation is obvious while at other times it is less so. The skin of the face is often more prone to  to injury and irritation as it is exposed to the daily elements without any covering for most people.

In addition, the face is often the focus of intensive skin care regimens involving the use of various substances for maintaining a healthy appearance, minimizing wrinkle formation, altering skin pigmentation, hair removal and other aesthetic reasons. These processes and substances may not only injure the skin but can make it prone to injury and skin diseases which can cause a burning sensation.

Causes of Burning Face

The cause of a burning face may overlap with the cause of facial itching, pain, tingling and numbness. It is important to first exclude obvious causes like skin care applications such as cosmetics and excessive sun exposure. Persistent burning particularly when there are other symptoms like a skin rash or skin lesions needs to be investigated by a medical professional. The causes of a burning face are diverse and the treatment depends on an accurate diagnosis.

Read more on itchy face and tingling in the face.


Injury to the face may occur for various reasons. Physical injury can arise with a blow to the face, cut from shaving or scratching the face. Environmental factors like dust and wind can also cause injury. Chemical injury is more likely to arise with skin care applications on the face, exposure to chlorinated water when swimming and industrial exposure to harsh substance. The main type of electromagnetic injury is sunburn which is discussed below..


Sunburn is one of the most common injuries to the face that leads to a burning sensation. The inflammation is not immediately evident and is only noticed hours after exposure to intense UV (ultraviolet) light. The sun is the main source of UV light but sunburn can also arise with tanning beds and other artificial sources. Even short term exposure to direct sunlight can cause mild sunburn.


Acne is a common skin condition that affects the face along with other areas like the shoulders, chest and back. The face is prone because of its high concentration of oil glands in the skin. The oil along with dead skin cells and dust may form plugs that block the pores. It may also become infected with bacteria. Pimples are the typical lesions in acne and tend to cause a burning sensation and even pain.


As with skin elsewhere on the body, the skin on the face may become infected. Bacteria, fungi and viruses are the most likely cause. Viruses can cause localized infections such as cold sores due to the herpes simplex virus (HSV) or the human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes warts. Sometimes viral infections may be systemic and cause lesions throughout various parts of the body, including the face.

A host of different bacteria can cause a skin infection on the face. It is more likely to arise when there is a break in th skin or on diseased skin. Fungi and specifically dermatophytes can cause fungal infections of the face. These fungi cause a typical red ring-like lesion. Therefore these infections are commonly referred to as a ringworm. A dermatophyte infection of the face is known as tinea faciei. In rare cases, yeasts may also cause a face infection.


Irritation of the skin may occur with various substances that do not immediately injure the skin. Some of thes substances are harmless. Irritants may include dust, water, soap, skin care applications including makeup and even sweat. It can cause localized inflammation of the skin (dermatitis). This is known as irritant contact dermatitis. The inflammation usually resolves once exposure to the irritant is discontinued.

Read more on contact dermatitis.


Sometimes harmless substances can trigger inflammation of the skin at the site where it makes contact. This is due to an allergic reaction where the immune system is hypersensitive. Various substances known as allergens can trigger this allergic reaction. When it is localized to the point of contact then it is referred to as allergic contact dermatitis. Sometimes systemic allergic reactions may also cause skin lesions and other symptoms on the face.

Nerve Disorders

The nerves supplying the face may also be the source of the burning if these nerves are injured or diseased. This may be seen in conditions like trigeminal neuralgia. While pain is a typical sensation, there may also be a burning sensation in some instances. Depending on the nerve, type of disorder and severity, there may also be accompanying symptoms like weakness or paralysis which may lead to drooping of the face.

Other Causes

  • Anxiety
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Cutaneous decompression sickness
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Drug hypersensitivity
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve injury and disorders)
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Shingles
  • Urticaria (hives)

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